« Back to Articles

Getting a U.S. Student Visa

Student Visa

Nuts and Bolts: What are the steps to take to get a U.S. student visa?

For international students hoping to come to the United States for studies, the student visa is essential. Many hear stories about the complicated application process or nerve-wracking visa interview. Yet, the reality remains that, with proper preparation, obtaining that F-1 student visa stamp in your passport is achievable in three important steps.

  1. Paying the SEVIS Fee
  2. Completing the student visa application
  3. Preparing for the visa Interview


I-20 and the SEVIS fee

After being admitted to the U.S. institution you wish to attend, and showing proof of funding needed for at least your first year of studies, the end of the journey is in sight. The international office at your intended college will send you an I-20, a certificate of eligibility for non-immigrant student status. Check the document for accuracy on your details and then sign the document if you’re 18 years old or older. One of your parents or a legal guardian must sign the I-20 if you are not yet 18.

Once you have your signed I-20 in hand, the next step is to pay the $200 US SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) fee. For more information on this fee, consult the  SEVIS fee FAQ. Information from your I-20 and other personal information is used to go online to pay the SEVIS fee. Most pay the fee via credit card. For detailed instructions on paying the SEVIS fee, visit the Study in the States site. After paying the fee, you will receive an electronic receipt at the email address you provided. This receipt should be printed and taken with the student to their visa interview.

DS-160 Online Non-Immigrant Visa Application

This U.S. Department of State online form is required from all non-immigrant visa applicants seeking temporary travel to the United States. Only after you have paid the SEVIS fee and printed off your fee receipt can you begin to complete the DS-160 form. When you fill out the online form, you need a variety of different documents including your passport and I-20, a photo, and other important information such as dates of your last five visits or trips to the U.S., and your education and work history.

After completing the online DS-160 form, you will need to print and keep the DS-160 barcode/confirmation page, schedule your visa interview appointment at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest you, and pay the $160 visa application processing fee. Each country has separate instructions for how that DS-160 application fee should be paid. If you have additional questions about the DS-160 form, visit the DS-160 FAQ site.

Visa appointments can be made for a date in the future no more than 120 days before the program start date on the student’s I-20 form. Best advice is to schedule your appointment as early as possible just in case there are any paperwork problems. That way there will still be time to fix any problems before you must leave for the start of your academic career in the United States.

The Visa Interview

Few students who have gone through the process would say their visa interview and the time leading up to it were easy. All the hard work and effort you have put in to get to this point can be undone if you are poorly prepared. The reality is the visa interview rarely lasts more than 2-3 minutes. That’s all the time you have to convince the U.S. consular officer you are qualified for a student visa.

Consular officers, who may be interviewing dozens if not hundreds of students during peak visa season, meet you at a window. If you approach this time in an organized manner with all the required documents easily accessible, answer their questions without giving a memorized speech, and, above all, be honest in your responses. And don’t forget to smile, naturally.

Knowing the three basic criteria for a student visa approval is critical:

  1. Are you a serious, legitimate student? You will need to explain your reasons why you chose the college or university on the I-20, why you want to study your chosen academic subject, and what you plan to do with your degree.
  2. How will you pay for your studies? Will a student be using personal or family funds to pay tuition and fees, or is there a scholarship or grant that has been awarded? Or is there some combination of funding sources available?
  3. Do you have strong ties to your home country? Keep in mind you are applying for a non-immigrant

Depending on the consulate you may receive an answer right away, or several days later. As you prepare for this process, there are typically visa information sessions either in person or virtually through a local EducationUSA Advising Center, or U.S. embassy or consulate.These sessions often are given by the consular staff who conduct the interviews.

Additional resources can be found on the NAFSA website. NAFSA: The Association of International Educators is the world’s largest professional association for international educators. This NAFSA site has many useful suggestions gathered from experts in the field from both the U.S. university side as well as the local in-country staff that are involved with the visa interview process. Check in with a U.S. News Global Education enrollment counselor for more assistance in the visa process!